Congratulations, you’re alive. After a chapter or two of this microbe’s-eye-view of human history, it is tempting to wonder how our ancestors ever made it. Painful ends have been with us from the beginning, and it is a mystery how mauled, malnourished cavemen struggled on to become contagion-ridden city dwellers. Wherever there is life, Arno Karlen relentlessly shows us, there are parasites to feed off it and pathogens to snuff it out. The surprise is less that bubonic plagues and flesh-eating bugs should still be with us, but that we could ever have presumed to show them the sickroom door.
Karlen’s concise and compelling medical history of mankind takes us from primordial soup to postmodern suburb, and shows how every step forward brought an epidemiological backlash in its wake. When our anthropoid ancestors first climbed down from the trees, they found gangrene, tetanus and a miscellany of other microbes welcoming